Unfortunately in the 32 years since this article was written, time has been a “villain” and the old lock-up is suffering the ill effects of a leaking roof and other weather-related damages.
Because the jail is physically located some distance from the society’s main campus, maintenance of the structure and grounds is an on-going challenge that needs to be addressed and solved. While moving the jail to society grounds has been explored, the costs incurred in such a move would be prohibitive and well beyond the society’s financial resources.
During the October Board of Directors’ Meeting the Board voted to make emergency repairs to the structure as soon as possible; and, to seek estimates for permanent repairs and restoration during 2016. The Board also instructed that funds be allocated in the 2016 budget to accomplish these tasks.
Hellertown’s first jail is an important part of our community’s history and heritage. We will keep you posted on progress of repair and restoration efforts via www.hellertownhistoricalsociety.org and 2016 issues of this newsletter.
Hellertown’s First Jail Now Ready for Visitors
Hellertown Historical Society planned to clean and restore the Borough’s First Jail in order to preserve its historical value. In 2017, thanks to fundraising efforts and the generosity of a member to provide matching funding, we have been able to accomplish that goal.
The jail had a major cleanup of the site, flooring and support beams replaced, a redesign to the structure with a new hip-style roof installed, new wood ceiling, a reconfigured jail cell installed, replacement of the door and jamb and three feet of river stone landscaping round the building preparing it for visitors.
The jail is located on Laubach Street, the alley behind the 1774 Grille and Tap Restaurant at Main and Penn Streets. However, this site is not accessible by vehicle as it is narrow and no parking available. It is best to walk to the site. Interested visitors should watch for future announcements when the jail will be open for visitation and interior tours.
"Hellertown’s first jail built in 1872 by Thomas R. Laubach, the first chief burgess, is being donated to the Hellertown Historical Society. It will be the society’s first building acquisition.
The stone jailhouse structure, located just off Penn Street along Silver Creek, is being donated by Elizabeth Hess of Hellertown, widow of the late Howard Hess, a borough mayor who served from 1946 to 1949 and a descendent of Laubach. Hess, who also served as a Northampton County Commissioner, restored the landmark building and maintained it until his death last July.
The property and approximately 12 by 14 foot structure which served as the town lock-up for 28 years will be deeded to the society after the property is surveyed later this year, according to a society member. It is believed that the jail, which was replaced by cells in the borough municipal building, was used primarily by transients and others who paid the borough for their stay by working on streets."
Our Website Is Taking Us ‘Back to the Future'
No one knows for sure how many local historical societies and small museums exist in the United States today. Debbie Ann Doyle, a staff member at the American Historical Association, places the number at 10,000. The majority of the local historical societies have budgets of under $25,000 per year, and 15% of these are staffed solely by volunteers.
Miss Doyle, has just described the Hellertown Historical Society. Our budget is very close to that number but is expanding, and our society is staffed solely by dedicated and resourceful volunteers.
Small historical societies - like ours - play an important role in preserving and protecting historical records, memorabilia, and devising ways to present the past to the public. For decades bricks and mortar buildings and museums with revolving displays were the answer. However, a more mobile society has seen demographics change and many “born and raised” locals have scattered across the United States and the world.
This change in demographics has occurred in the Hellertown area, too. In fact, it is very important that new local residents feel connected and a part of their community’s past. New outreach methods were proposed…and the most successful has turned out to be the society’s website!
Since the website was established a mere five years ago, there have been over 35,000 visitors!
Don Mills, the Hellertown Historical Society’s Webmaster, has done an excellent job presenting the many facets of the society’s buildings, grounds, and museum displays in an interesting and educational manner. For those who are unable to visit in person, making the trip through Hellertown’s historical buildings via the website is the next best thing.
We are proud to offer the first redesign of the original website beginning October 2018. The new site offers a more user-friendly organization with visually appealing graphics and much easier navigation. Continue to re-visit the site as we add and expand…more and more access to Hellertown’s past is on the drawing board.
The part of the Hellertown Historical Society that places it above and beyond other historical societies of its size is the Tavern Room. The Tavern Room is available for parties, meetings, showers, etc and generates donations that help bolster the society’s challenging budget. The Tavern Room is prominently displayed on the website and has yielded a growing number of reservations. According to the Tavern Room coordinator, “I am constantly receiving email requests from website visitors who are interested in reserving the Tavern Room for their next event. The website has helped take reservations to the next level.” (Visit the Tavern Room page for more info).
The society’s website is just one tool being used to improve services to the community. In fact you could say that Hellertown Historical Society, through use of technology, is rapidly coming “Back to the Future.” Tools such as Past Perfect software (complex software used to record and track donated artifacts, membership, etc. currently being implemented), use of email addresses, etc., are helping small historical societies (such as ours) meet future challenges head on.
Tavern Room Usage is Up
Word of mouth continues to spread, the Tavern Room at the Heller-Wagner Grist Mill is the perfect venue for intimate social gatherings. The 2016 calendar is filling fast. If you are considering an event and use of the Tavern Room, now is the time to reserve your date. It may not be available if you wait.
Additional caterers have signed on as preferred partners in this exquisite venue. Patrons are also permitted the comfort of self-catering their own food.
The Tavern Room consists of two heated/air-conditioned rooms and amenities including a service sink, refrigerator, projection screen and Wi-Fi.
Click here for more information pertaining to the Tavern Room.
The following is an article written by Hellertown Historical Society President, Stacie Torkos which was published in the Valley Voice October 14, 2016 and is reprinted here with their permission.
Hellertown Historical Society relies on volunteers, why are they so important to this group?
Monetary support is vital to our Organization, however, volunteer support is equally important for our Organization to survive. We are a small, dedicated group of volunteers who are passionate about preserving and sharing our beautiful historic site and Hellertown’s history. It is a fun and fulfilling experience to work with volunteers who can count on each other and who share the same commitment to our mission and to serving the Community.
Hellertown Historical Society is not a group, we are a family. As we grow and leave a bigger footprint in the Community, our need for volunteers has become more critical than ever. Volunteer and intern opportunities are available in all areas of HHS, come join us and make an impact.
Hellertown Historical Society preserves the memory of those who have built and enriched our collective history as a Community. It also assures those who are active today that their story will be preserved. Who was Dimmick Park named after? Where was Lerch Dairy located? Who were the Odd Fellows? These are the types of questions that make historical societies important. We create connections by putting those of us in the present in touch with the people of the past who shaped our landscape, named our landmarks and made the decisions that ultimately affect us today. For example, third graders from Saucon Valley come on a field trip to learn about the Grist Mill site and Hellertown’s history. When visiting the garden, the students learn hands-on what herbs were used for in Colonial times.
Why do you commit your free time to volunteer for this group? For me, history was just a bunch of dates and happenings that we had to memorize in grade school. It wasn’t until my grandparents passed away -- taking stories and family history with them -- that I started to discover and explore the innate appreciation and desire I had for history. Volunteerism and helping others is coded into my DNA, so it was only a matter of time that I would find myself with a historical organization.
I started by volunteering and later interning with Historic Bethlehem Museum & Sites and the Moravian Historical Society. Both of these organizations have solid foundations of education, support, collection management and outreach. I became a sponge and soaked up everything that I could.
Born and raised in Williams Township and Hellertown, I thought to myself, “Why are you not volunteering with the Hellertown Historical Society?” So, I reached to HHS to find out how I could help and learned that there were plenty of opportunities in all areas of the Organization. I became a volunteer and was excited to share that knowledge that I had obtained from working at the other historical societies. Next, I was invited to join the Board of Directors and later was elected President.
I have a full-time paid career in finance in addition to my full-time commitment as HHS President. My service is challenging and rewarding. I love history. It’s especially fun to discover something new in our archives. It is also mysterious as there are some pieces of history that we haven’t been able to confirm -- like where The Lost Tavern was located. I enjoy forming relationships with the people and the partners in our Community and I have a personal connection to Hellertown. I also take pleasure in hearing visitors share that they had a great experience with us or that our site is beautiful.
Highlight some accomplishments in the past 35 years. The lease for the Heller-Wagner Grist Mill property was granted to HHS in the early 1980’s and the Society cleaned out and restored the dilapidated Grist Mill. The restoration took six years and was made possible by volunteers, donations and Community support. Our Organization also reached out to the public for donations of items from Hellertown and built a collection of local archives and artifacts. Later, items were catalogued and were available for research or placed on display in the museum in the Grist Mill or the HHS barn. HHS was also gifted the deed to Hellertown’s first jail. HHS had begun working on the first phase of restoring the jail and is accepting donations for this effort.
In the past 10 years, HHS invested in office equipment, software and reference materials to preserve and care for our collections.
We brought new people into our Community through museum tours, special events, volunteer opportunities, student internships, educational programming and more. The Tavern Room was offered to the public as a site rental to help fund-raising efforts. In fact, the popularity of the Tavern Room has been a blessing and it breathed new life into our Organization by providing funds to support our mission and to maintain our historic site.
Over the years, HHS has become a destination for everyone in our Community. We implemented new outreach efforts to connect with people of all different ages and from all different places. Although we love history, you don’t have to love it to visit us.
Future Plans. The public will have greater access to connect with us and our collections as we implement new museum software and embrace offerings of new technology. Our goal is to create digitized collections and searchable databases. We will continue to expand public and educational programming. My dream is for the Mill to be operational, even if it is only a section. We can explain how the mill worked, but to see it in action would be the ultimate learning experience. Our Community connections and partnerships will grow. Through the popularity of the Tavern Room, we will continue to bring more people to Hellertown and introduce them to what our Community has to offer.
Our site will continue to be a destination that has something for everyone.
Phone (610) 838-1770
Office Hours: Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday 9:00AM - 11:30AM
Museum Hours: Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday 9:00AM - 11:30AM & By Appointment
Hellertown Historical Society To Repair/Restore Hellertown’s First Jail - Remember the song from our younger days - possibly the early fifties - that went something like this…”time you’re a villain, time you’re a thief, time you stole your love from me and now I’m….” well…you get the idea. Time is what the Society is all about…that is, preservation of all the many items and memories that collectively make up our historical past.
One of those items from our historical past is Hellertown’s first jail. If today you took a survey of Hellertown residents and asked the question “Where is Hellertown’s first jail located?” you will probably receive either blank stares or a sheepish “I didn’t realize Hellertown’s first jail was still in existence.” Of course if the same question was asked of older, native Hellertonians the percentage of those in the know would probably increase.
The jail, which is over 100 years old, has an interesting history. The following is an excerpt from an article written by Alice Lesoravage that appeared in the February 1984 issue of the Morning Call:
Memorials in Lieu of Flowers
We have seen a trend toward families of deceased ones suggesting family and friends send a donation to the Hellertown Historical Society. This is sincerely appreciated by our Society members. Should you have questions concerning “memorials in lieu of flowers” for your loved one, please discuss them with your funeral director. Often the director will arrange for funds to go directly to the Society which relieves this burden for the family. You may also contact the Society at 610-838-1770. The funds received through memorials are used to maintain, refurbish and repair the various buildings, grounds and artifacts within the Society’s possession or these funds may be earmarked for a special purpose. The Society Staff will gladly discuss plans for these funds with you.